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First Mass since Reformation celebrated at Swiss cathedral

First Mass since Reformation celebrated at Swiss cathedral

Mass is celebrated at the St. Pierre Cathedral in Switzerland on March 5, 2022. / Twitter @cath_point_ch.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Rome Newsroom, Mar 10, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The first Catholic Mass in nearly 500 years was celebrated at a cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland, last week for the vigil of the First Sunday of Lent.

The last Mass celebrated at St. Pierre Cathedral took place in 1535. After the Reformation, the building was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church, which destroyed the cathedral’s statues and paintings, and banned Catholic worship.

The Mass took place on March 5, having been postponed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 1,500 people attended the Mass. The main celebrant was Father Pascal Desthieux, the episcopal vicar of Geneva.

During the liturgy, Daniel Pilly, a representative of the Protestant community, asked pardon for historic actions against Christian unity.

Father Desthieux said that Geneva’s Catholics were touched by the Protestant community’s invitation to celebrate Mass at St. Pierre Cathedral and also asked for forgiveness for “faults against unity”: acts of mockery, caricature, or challenge to the Reformed community. Desthieux also underlined the desire to “enrich each other with our differences.”

The priest greeted couples from religiously mixed marriages “who live ecumenism in the most intimate way.” Referring to Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert, he called on those present to “resist the forces of division in our lives between us and among us Christians.”



In a letter published on the vicariate’s website in 2020, Desthieux described the cathedral as the “central and symbolic location of Geneva’s Christian history.”

Following the Reformation, the cathedral became a location “emblematic of the Calvinist reform,” he said.

John Calvin, the French founder of the branch of Protestantism known as Calvinism, lived in Geneva, and the city was a destination for French Protestants forced to flee due to persecution. Saint-Pierre de Genève was Calvin’s home church and his chair is displayed next to the cathedral’s pulpit.

The diocese of Geneva was eventually absorbed into the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. Today, just under 40% of the Swiss population is Catholic.

While acknowledging that the return of Catholic Mass to the cathedral was a cause for rejoicing, Desthieux cautioned against “triumphalism,” as well as any language suggesting that Catholics were looking to “take over” the building.

“With our Protestant brothers and sisters, who welcome us in their cathedral, we want simply to make a strong ecumenical gesture, a sign that we all live together in Geneva,” he said, adding that the Mass was a “gesture of hospitality” within the city’s Christian community.

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